Best for wilderness fans

vacation home thousand palms california
Joshua Tree National Park is a big attraction for residents of Thousand Palms.
  • Place: Thousand Palms, Calif.
  • Median home value: $160,000

For desert rats, there are few finer places than Thousand Palms. The town is only 40 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park, named for its distinctive plant -- a kind of yucca. The park has both the Mojave and Colorado desert habitat and boasts a wide variety of wildlife, including mountain lion and bighorn sheep. Mountain hiking and rock climbing are favorite activities.

Other natural areas nearby include Big Morongo Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and San Bernardino National Forest. For weekend trips, Death Valley and Sequoia National Parks are about five hours away. And Yosemite is not much farther.

There are man-made attractions as well. The next town over is Palm Springs, the watering hole that serves as a second home community for movie moguls and stars. The town features museums, film festivals and world-class restaurants.

The cost of homeownership in Thousand Palms is low compared with most of California. Median home prices are $160,000, while they're about $425,000 for the rest of the state.

First published January 30, 2015: 4:20 PM ET
Source: Zillow
The best places to buy were determined by rating towns' proximity to popular recreational amenities, local home values and potential for price appreciation.

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